Four Varieties of Social Responsibility: Making Sense of the 'Sphere of Influence' and 'Leverage' Debate Via the Case of ISO 26000

21 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2011

See all articles by Stepan Wood

Stepan Wood

Peter A Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia

Date Written: March 4, 2011

Abstract

One of the key controversies in social responsibility discourse is whether an organization’s responsibility should be based on its capacity to influence other parties or only on its actual contribution to social and environmental outcomes. On one side of the debate are those who argue that the limits of an organization’s responsibility should be defined in terms of its “sphere of influence” (SOI): the greater the influence, the greater the responsibility to act. On the other side are those who reject the SOI approach as ambiguous, misleading, normatively undesirable and prone to strategic manipulation. Foremost among the critics is the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative for business and human rights, Professor John Ruggie, who rejects SOI as a basis for defining the boundaries of the business responsibility to respect human rights. The newly published ISO 26000 guidance standard on social responsibility was at the centre of this controversy during its final stages of drafting. This paper examines how the concept of SOI is articulated in ISO 26000 and the extent to which it responds to the concerns identified by critics. It proposes a four-part matrix of “influence-based” responsibility, defined by the intersection of two distinctions that are often elided in SR discourse: the distinction between “influence as impact” and “influence as leverage,” on one hand, and the distinction between negative and positive responsibility, on the other. The paper argues that ISO 26000 avoids the conceptual ambiguity identified by critics by defining SOI exclusively in terms of “leverage”; that it avoids the main operational ambiguity identified by its critics by eschewing the problematic concept of “proximity;” that it embraces all four varieties of social responsibility to varying degrees, repudiating the normative claim that social responsibility is only negative and impact-based; and that it provides at least a partial response to the problem of strategic gaming.

Keywords: Social responsibility, sphere of influence, leverage, ISO 26000, John Ruggie, business and human rights

JEL Classification: k39, K33, M14

Suggested Citation

Wood, Stepan, Four Varieties of Social Responsibility: Making Sense of the 'Sphere of Influence' and 'Leverage' Debate Via the Case of ISO 26000 (March 4, 2011). Osgoode CLPE Research Paper No. 14/2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1777505 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1777505

Stepan Wood (Contact Author)

Peter A Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia ( email )

1822 East Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1
Canada
+1 604-827-0441 (Phone)

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
358
rank
81,190
Abstract Views
1,453
PlumX Metrics
!

Under construction: SSRN citations while be offline until July when we will launch a brand new and improved citations service, check here for more details.

For more information